China cannot stay out of Syrian chaos
The West has sped up efforts against Syria after the double veto by China and Russia over the UN Security Council resolution. Russia has sent its envoy to the country. China cannot sit idly by as the situation moves away from its intentions.
Even it is not able to dictate the direction of the Syrian situation, China can at least cast its influence in three aspects.
It can facilitate communication between the Assad government and the opposition. The vetoes by China and Russia have deprived the West of a convenient excuse to launch direct military action, meaning the Syrian opposition will not receive overall support as given to the NTC in Benghazi during the Libyan civil war.
The tenacity of the Assad regime, including its military strength, differs from Gaddafi’s, making it harder for the opposition to seize power. These lay out the possibility of channeling dialogue between the Assad regime and the opposition. China and Russia should help the country reform and avoid revolution. It is worth a try.
Second, China should persuade the Arab League, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt to mitigate their attitude toward the Assad government. Within the Arab League, the consensus toward Syria is weak. Plus, the antipathy toward Assad is offset by the bloc being on alert to any external interference in an Arab country.
The Western alliance also has disagreements. Over the Libyan issue for example, Germany did not fully agree with the UK and France. China can stress diplomacy with Germany and France on the Syrian situation, urging them to change their stance.
Though China has a less direct stake in Syria than Russia, the collapse of Syria will result in the West further controlling the Middle East, and Iran taking direct strategic pressure from the West. If war broke out in Iran, China would have to rely more on Russia for energy, bringing new uncertainty to the Sino-Russian strategic partnership.
China needs to put in more efforts to delay the Western advance in the Middle East. For now, it is wise to divert more efforts to Syria and Iran. China can leverage its good relationship with Arab League countries, and its large capital and market to deepen its influence in the region.
The political landscape in the Middle East is becoming unfavorable to China. Doing nothing is not an option. The Chinese Embassy in Libya has been hit by stones from protesters but how bad can the situation get? Active diplomacy may have its consequences, but these would be affordable.